What’s a bull worth?

By Whitney Dollemore , Katherine Livestock Industry Development

The cost of a bull is always an important factor when making a purchase but it is not the only factor to consider. Firstly you should consider if the program behind the bull aligns with your own long-term goals for your breeding herd. If it doesn’t you are wasting your time and money! Other important factors include structural soundness and his ability to get cows in calf (high percent normal sperm). In considering how much a bull is worth it is also important to consider the value of the bull across the number of calves he will sire during his working life.

It is logical that if you buy a bull that is structurally sound with good semen that you are more likely to get a larger number of calves from this bull each year and he is likely to have a longer working life. Great news! The harder question to answer would be : If I am retaining the daughters of this bull, what will my breeder herd look like 10 years from now and will I be able to meet the environmental and market demands of that time? This all comes down to the bull’s environmental adaptation, family history and the selection that has been performed by the bull breeder.

A large amount of data is now being provided at bull sales and auctions. However, all data must be interpreted in the right context . Understanding what the facts and figures are describing is of great importance. Raw data (the actual measurement e.g. scrotal circumference) is helpful for an indication of what the bull’s own performance is under the nutrition and environment he has been raised in. The downfall of raw measurements, however, is that if he has had been given a little more feed than the other bulls this confounds the measurement and the raw data will not be an accurate indication of what he will pass onto his progeny compared to the other bulls in that sale. Another example is sperm motility data, percent normal sperm is related to female fertility traits, not sperm motility.

As it is not always a transparent process and there is a lot of data with little explanation, there are estimated breeding values (EBVs) to try and un-muddy the waters. As EBVs are not only his own data but also that of his relatives across environments . EBVs provide a value for selected traits or a combined dollar value for a combination of traits (selection index) to rank the genetic contribution a bull will provide to his offspring in spite of the environment or nutrition he has received in his lifetime. An EBV ultimately lets a bull buyer know what kind of traits (growth, fertility, and carcass) the bull’s sons and daughters will exhibit in comparison to other registered bulls of the same breed. All EBVs for registered animals of any breed are available on the BreedPLAN website or through the respective breed society.

On the 17 June DPIF held an online auction (AuctionsPlus) to sell 81 bulls and on 5 August tendered the 92 surplus females from the Selected Brahman and composite herds. Both events saw full clearance of stock mainly to repeat buyers. The price summary is shown in the table below.


Bulls Breeders
Breed Bottom price Average price Top price Bottom price Average price Top price
Brahman $ 1,011 $ 1,792 $ 3,111 $ 850 $ 1,343 $ 2,050
Composite $ 1,011 $ 1,886 $ 3,661 - - -

The Selected Brahman and composite program have been selected for fertility since 1994 and have been registered with the Australian Brahman Breeders’ Association since the beginning. Below is a table comparing the 2015 Select herd average to the Brahman breed average across all traits and selection indices.


Bwt 200d 400d 600d MCW Milk SS DC Cwt EMA Rib P8 RBY FT SF JapOx LiveEx
2015 Sel +0.7 +13 +20 +29 +27 -1 +2.3 -5.0 +16 +1.3 +0.2 +0.9 +0.5 +0.04 -0.16 +34 +32
Breed Avg +2.3 +16 +23 +31 +36 -1 +0.6 -1.2 +19 +2.0 -0.3 -0.4 +0.5 +0.00 +0.03 +26 +23
Difference -1.6 -3 -3 -3 -9 0 +1.7 -3.8 -3 -0.7 +0.5 +1.3 0 +0.04 -0.19 +8 +8

It can be seen that through herd selection for environmental adaptation compared to other Brahman breeders there are advantages in using these animals in regard to birth weight, mature cow weight, scrotal size, days to calving, rib and rump fat, and the Jap Ox and Live export selection index dollar value of overall return. No difference can be found in retail beef yield and milk and a slight consistent disadvantage in weaning, yearling, 18 month and carcass weights, eye muscle area, flight time and shear force. Depending on you breeding objective, target market and location, these may be the right or wrong animals for your program.

The increased fertility and adaptability of this herd is also evident when average weaner production is compared to the achievable (75th percentile) average weaner production for this region. Of the properties involved in the Cashcow project from the Northern Forrest 25% of people achieved at least 112.4 kg/cow. The live weight production and percent pregnant within four months of calving in the Selected Brahman herd are shown in the table below.

Weaning year Average weaner production (kg/cow) Change in Average Cow weight (kg) Live weight Production (kg) % Pregnant within 4 Months of calving
2011 149.0 +5.6 154.6 49.1
2012 172.5 -49.4 123.1 87.8
2013 176.6 -30.6 146 84.2
2014 160.2 +4.9 165.1 74.4
2015 165.7 -28.0 137.7 71.8

The change in average cow weight is the difference in average weight between pregnancy testing and weaning round the following year allowing the calculation of a total live weight production in kilograms. The live weight production is a useful figure as cows that do not produce a weaner can be included as kilograms of saleable beef.

In summary, when selecting a bull for your herd it is extremely important to have in mind what your cattle need to be producing in 10 years. Genetic improvement of any product is cheap, permanent and cumulative but it also takes a number of generations to move in a particular direction. For this reason it is imperative that a breeding objective be clearly outlined so gains can be made in the correct direction for your business. While EBVs provide you with clear values for the progeny of a bull you purchase it is equally important that the bull has the ability to get cows in calf. A full bull breeding soundness evaluation to look at structure and function as well as semen traits is necessary for any bull buyer to be sure that the traits they are selecting for are infused into the next generation of cows.

Last updated: 29 September 2016